Top 10 Songs with Unusual / Odd Time Signatures

Time signatures are also known as meter signatures and measure signatures.

An unusual time signature is any time signature other than simple time signatures. The most common simple time signatures are 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4. Simple time signatures have top numerals of 2, 3, or 4, and bottom numerals of 2, 4, or 8. Compound time signatures have top numerals of 6, 9, or 12, and bottom numerals of 4, 8, or 16.

Unusual (odd) time signatures are meters like 5/4, 6/4, 19/4, 7/8, 9/8, 13/8, 13/16, 21/16, 23/16, 17/32, 21/32, 1/64, and more. What's that? It's every drummer's dream and nightmare.

Progressive metal and rock are filled with unusual time signatures, but prog subgenres aren't the only ones that use them. Bands like Dream Theater, Tool, and Radiohead are very frequent users of unusual time signatures, and they have many songs for this list, but I am starting with one song per band.
The Top Ten
1 The Dance of Eternity - Dream Theater

Dream Theater has many songs to choose from for this list, but I have chosen this instrumental because it goes through over 128 time signature changes in 6:13 minutes. It contains beat groupings in 8, 7, 6, 5, and 4.

Was this song the dream of the Dream Theater drummer? Or his nightmare?

It's Dream Theater. Of course, it's gonna have something hard to play and weird. Duh.

2 Money - Pink Floyd
3 Bleed - Meshuggah

13/16. Perfect drumming by Tomas Haake.

The bass drum pattern is a repeated sequence of 13/16, followed by one measure of 4/4.

Haake stated that this song was "a big effort for me to learn. I had to find a totally new approach to playing the double bass drums to be able to do that stuff. I had never really done anything like that before, like the fast bursts that go all the way through the song basically. So I actually spent as much time practicing that track alone as I did with all of the other tracks combined. It's kind of a big feat to change your approach like that, and I'm glad we were able to nail it for the album. For a while, though, we didn't even know if it was going to make it to the album."

He plays so fluently that at first listen, it may not seem difficult to the listener, but it's really very intricate.

4 Tom Sawyer - Rush

Instrumental section is in 7/8 with some 13/16.

5 Supper's Ready - Genesis
6 Schism - Tool
7 Spoonman - Soundgarden

The intro, verses, drum solo, and parts of the bridge are in 7/4 (sometimes transcribed as 14/8). The spoons' solo is in 6/8.

Choruses, parts of the bridges, and guitar solo are "usual" - in 4/4.

Intriguing song too, one about the man of spoons.

8 Them Bones - Alice in Chains
9 Tubular Bells, Part 1 - Mike Oldfield

The first riff in 15/8 is made of two bars: the first bar is in 7/8, and the second bar is in 8/8.

10 Paranoid Android - Radiohead

It includes 7/8 and flips between 4/4 time and 7/8 time about 13 times.

Half of the songs here I have on DSi game...

The Contenders
11 The Art of Dying - Gojira

It includes 21/16. It cycles from 4/4 to 2/4 to 21/16 (grouped 5+5+5+3+3) and repeats this pattern during the intro and beginning of the song.

12 The Becoming - Nine Inch Nails
13 The Count of Tuscany - Dream Theater
14 The Sound of Muzak - Porcupine Tree
15 Ticks and Leeches - Tool
16 A Change of Seasons - Dream Theater

Not only loaded with odd time signatures but also unpredictable changes throughout the entire song. I remember the first time listening to it. Even after several or many listens, it is difficult to comprehend the brilliance and the way it was written.

I have listened to mostly Progressive Rock for many years. Dream Theater is something really special and right there with the UK giants of the '70s. This is a large chunk of further proof.

15/8 is used for the 1st verse of the song, broken up into 2 bars: a 6/8 and a 9/8, which equals 15/8 (confirmed by Mike Portnoy himself).

For the 2nd verse, he used 2 bars of 6/8 (which equals 12/8) and a bar of 3/8.

Later in the song, there are more alternations between all these meters, grouped in a different way.

17 Thick as a Brick - Jethro Tull

Oh, interesting. I did not know that.

18 Take Five - The Dave Brubeck Quartet

I first heard this song when I was 10 years old and loved it. Still do. I've learned over the years that I'm really attracted to music with odd time signatures.

19 All You Need is Love - The Beatles
20 Question! - System of a Down
21 The Grudge - Tool
22 Windowpane - Opeth
23 Starless - King Crimson
24 New Millennium Cyanide Christ - Meshuggah

It repeats the pattern of five bars of 23/16 and one bar of 13/16 from the start.

Sounds like fun...

25 Moon - Bjork
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